WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama on Tuesday imposed new economic sanctions on Iran’s oil export sector and on a pair of Chinese and Iraqi banks accused of doing business with Tehran.
In a statement released by the White House, Obama said the new measures underlined the United States’ determination to force Tehran “to meet its international obligations” in nuclear negotiations.
The sanctions came on the same day as the US State Department branded Iran “an active state sponsor of terrorism” in its 2011 annual terrorism report, and as US lawmakers prepared to vote legislation demanding more action.
Obama is keen to show his Iranian sanctions regime is tough, amid fears Israel may launch unilateral strikes against Iran if it believes the Islamic regime is on the point of achieving the capability to build a nuclear bomb.
“This action is designed to deter Iran from establishing payment mechanisms for the purchase of Iranian oil to circumvent existing sanctions,” Obama said, warning that US sanctions will apply to any entity buying Iranian oil.
Obama said measures would be taken against firms that have dealings with the National Iranian Oil Company, the Naftiran Intertrade Company or the Central Bank of Iran or that help Iran buy US dollars or precious metals.
And he accused the Bank of Kunlun in China and the Elaf Islamic Bank in Iraq of arranging transactions worth millions of dollars with Iranian banks already under sanctions because of alleged links to Tehran’s weapons program.
Obama said these two institutions would henceforth be denied access to the US financial system, as would any banks caught dealing with Iran in future.
“Today’s action makes it clear that we will expose any financial institution… that allows the increasingly desperate Iranian regime to retain access to the international financial system,” he said.
Separately, the US Treasury Department confirmed details of the sanctions and allegations against Chinese and Iraqi banks accused of dealing with Iranian firms with alleged links to weapons proliferation and terrorism.
“As financial institutions around the world have cut ties with these designated Iranian banks, Bank of Kunlun and Elaf Islamic Bank took the opposite approach,” the statement said.
The Treasury said the Beijing-based Bank of Kunlun provided services to at least six Iranian banks that have been placed under US sanctions because of their alleged roles in Iran’s weapons of mass destruction programs.
In particular, it is alleged Kunlun made roughly $100 million in payments from accounts it held for the Iran’s Bank Tejarat and made a payment on behalf of an entity linked to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Baghdad-based Elaf Islamic Bank, meanwhile, is alleged to have “engaged in activity during the past year worth tens of millions of dollars with the Export Development Bank of Iran.”
Israel has its own undeclared nuclear arsenal, but fears a nuclear-armed Iran would shift the balance of power in an already volatile Middle East or that its fierce foe Tehran might try to eradicate the Jewish state.
During a visit to Tunisia on Monday at the start of a Middle East tour, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said sanctions were having a “serious impact” on the Iranian economy, even if their results may not be immediately obvious.
Obama’s opponent in November’s US presidential election, Republican challenger Mitt Romney, was unimpressed by the new measures, arguing in a statement that “On Iran, President Obama has led from behind.”
The Romney camp noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said last week that international sanctions had so far made “not one iota” of difference to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
“The president’s refusal to take a tough stance when it comes to Iran has imperiled our allies and jeopardized our national security,” said Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams.
The goal of the US sanctions, which are mirrored by similar measures by the European Union and other major economies, is to force Iran to negotiate a deal to put its nuclear program under international supervision.
Tehran insists it has a right to enrich uranium for civilian nuclear energy and research, but Western powers fear it is attempting to stockpile enough highly-enriched fuel to have a “break-out capability” to build a bomb.
White House lawyers were desperate not to talk about Rudy Giuliani — or Trump’s other conspiracy theories: CNN analyst
On Saturday, CNN analyst Gloria Borger noted a key piece of the timeline that was conveniently missing from the defense presented by President Donald Trump's legal team: The involvement of Trump's private lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
"The one person that Jay Sekulow didn't mention is Rudy Giuliani, because this is Rudy Giuliani's theory of the game here," said Borger. "They were very careful not to bring up Rudy Giuliani because they know that he is not well regarded in the United States Senate, but if you again look at this summary of the transcript of the president's phone call, the president talks about CrowdStrike, he talks about a lot of things that went on. 'I would like to have the attorney general call you or your people, I would like to have you get to the bottom of it,' this whole nonsense, he talked about Bob Mueller and said a lot of it started with Ukraine."
Pompeo ridiculed by CNN panel for his ‘phony mock outrage’ response after being outed as a foul-mouthed bully
Responding to a statement from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued through the State Department accusing an NPR journalist of being "shameless" for going public with an encounter she had with him in his offices where he cursed at her, a CNN panel all but rolled their eyes at his "phony" outrage.
Speaking with host Anderson Cooper, CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin called out the blustery Pompeo as well as many Republicans who took "umbrage" at Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) mentioning a report that the Donald Trump would have their heads on "on a pike" if they crossed him.
Trump attorney Sekulow’s impeachment defense of president blown out of the water with Lindsey Graham statement
On Saturday, one of the biggest opening arguments made by President Donald Trump's legal team at the impeachment trial was that there was, in fact, a risk that Ukraine had meddled in U.S. elections.
"Mr. Schiff and his colleagues repeatedly told you that the intelligence community assessment that Russia was acting alone, responsible for the election interference, implying this somehow debunked the idea there might be in — you know, interference from other countries, including Ukraine," said Trump counsel Jay Sekulow. "This is basically what we call a straw man argument."
But MSNBC's Brian Williams knocked down this defense with a clip from none other than one of President Donald Trump's biggest allies: Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC).